Traffic Stops/ Vehicle Searches

Click on the case titles to link to the full case decision.

Carroll v. U.S., 267 U.S. 132 (1925)-Police may conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle stopped on traffic if there is probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence. The search without a warrant is justified based on the exigent circumstance that a vehicle stopped on traffic could be quickly moved out of the city or jurisdiction of the investigating agency.

Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, (1949)-Probable Cause-"We deal with probabilities. These are not technical; they are the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act." And, "Probable cause exists where the facts and circumstances within the officers' knowledge, and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient in themselves to warrant a belief by a man of reasonable caution that a crime is being committed."

The Court held in this case that an officer's prior knowledge of a person's criminal behavior can be considered along with other facts to determine probable cause eventhough this information cannot be used at trial.

State of New Jersey v Dominick Dantonio, 115 A2d 35; 49 ALR2d 460 (1955 NJ)-New Jersey Supreme Court ruling concerning stationary police radar for speed detection.

1.) The Court took judicial notice that radar and the Doppler Principle are accurate.

2.) The operator only needs a few hours of training to be qualified.

3.) The operator need not understand the intricate electrical workings of the device.

4.) The radar equipment is properly set up and tested.

Smith v. Hill, 1963 OK 69381 P.2d 868 Case Number: 39569 Decided: 03/19/1963 Supreme Court of Oklahoma- "An estimate of speed at which an automobile was moving at a given time is generally viewed as a matter of common observation rather than expert opinion, and it is accordingly well settled that any person of ordinary experience, ability, and intelligence having the means or opportunity of observation, whether an expert or nonexpert, and without proof of further qualification may express an opinion as to how fast an automobile which came under his observation was going at a particular time. The fact that the witness had not owned or operated an automobile does not preclude him from so testifying. Speed of an automobile is not a matter of exclusive knowledge or skill, but anyone with a knowledge of time and distance is a competent witness to give an estimate; the opportunity and extent of observation goes to the weight of the testimony."

Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Honeycutt, 19661104_0040092.KY(1966)-stationary police radar case:

1) It is sufficient that the intrument was tested within hours of being used for a speeding case and that it was tested using a calibrated tuning fork.

2) The operator has such knowledge and training as enables him to properly set up, test, and read the instrument.

3) It is not required that the operator understand the scientific principles of radar or be able to explain its internal workings.

4) A few hours' instruction normally should be enough to qualify an operator.

Cooper v. California, 386 U.S. 58 (1967)-A vehicle secured by police and held as evidence or for forfeiture can be searched anytime it is in their custody without obtaining a search warrant.

Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42 (1970)-Armed robbery suspects were stopped in their vehicle and arrested. The officers took the vehicle to the station to search it. It was not unreasonable in this case to take the car to the station house. All occupants in the car were arrested in a dark parking lot in the middle of the night. A careful search at that point was impractical and perhaps not safe for the officers, and it would serve the owner's convenience and the safety of his car to have the vehicle and the keys together at the station house.

Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443 (1971)-A search warrant is required to search an automobile if it is parked and is not readily accessible by the suspect. In this case the suspect of a murder was in his residence and the vehicle was parked in the driveway. The court stated in part the following: "...no alerted criminal bent on flight, no fleeting opportunity on an open highway after a hazardous chase, no contraband or stolen goods or weapons, no confederates waiting to move the evidence, not even the inconvenience of a special police detail to guard the immobilized automobile. In short, by no possible stretch of the legal imagination can this be made into a case where 'it is not practicable to secure a warrant...'"

US v. Ragsdale, 471 F.2d 24 (5th Cir. 1972)-A police officer developed probable cause to search a vehicle on traffic. Another officer on the scene did not have probable cause of his own. He, however, conducted the search. The court ruled that the search was valid.

Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U. S. 583 (1974)-Officers had probable cause to believe a vehicle, that was parked in a public parking lot, was used to push another vehicle over an embankment after a murder. Without a warrant, the officers impounded the vehicle and took exterior paint scrapings. The officers also compared the tire treads to castings of the tire tracks at the crime scene. The Supreme Court held that the police do not need a warrant, only probable cause to take the actions they did. The vehicle was in the pubic. The exterior of the vehicle, not interior, was examined. The Court has long held that there is a lesser expectation of privacy attached to vehicles.

US v. Roe, 495 F.2d 600 (10th Cir. 1974)-A suspect does not need to be in his vehicle at the time of arrest in order for the vehicle to be searched incident to arrest. The suspect merely has to have the vehicle in his possession at the scene of the arrest. The entire passenger area can be searched. 

Texas v. White, 423 U.S. 67 (1975)-The US Supreme Court reaffirmed the Chambers case. If an officer has probable cause to search a vehicle after stopping it, the officer can move the vehicle to the station to conduct the search.  

South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364 (1976)-A vehicle impounded for parking violations can be unlocked, entered, and inventoried by the police as part of their "caretaking" function without violating the Fourth Amendment. Any drugs or other evidence or contraband can be lawfully seized.

Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 US 106(1977)-The driver can be ordered out of a vehicle, without suspicion, on routine traffic stops. The officer's safety greatly outweighs the inconvenience to the driver.

State of New York v. Perlman (1977)-The Suffolk County District Court ruled that an external test of a radar device is required to prove the device is accurate.

Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U. S. 128 (1978)-The passengers in a vehicle that they do not own was stopped for possibly being involved in an armed robbery. Officers searched the vehicle where ammo and a sawed-off shotgun were found. The passengers denied ownership of the evidence. The driver and passengers were convicted of armed robbery. The passengers tried to get the evidence suppressed on Fourth Amendment grounds. The Supreme Court held that they had no standing because they had no expectation of privacy. Fourth Amendment rights are personal rights and cannot be vicariously asserted.

State of Wisconsin v. Hanson, 85 Wis.2d 233 (1978)-The Supreme Court of Wisconsin set minimum conditions for the use of moving radar as evidence:

1. The officer operating the device has adequate training and experience in its operation.

2. That the radar device was in proper working condition at the time of the arrest. This will be established by proof that suggested methods of testing the proper functioning of the device were followed.

3. That the device was used in an area where road conditions are such that there is a minimum possibility of distortion.

4. That the input speed of the patrol car must be verified, this being especially important where there is a reasonable dispute that road conditions may have distorted the accuracy of the reading (i.e., presence of large trucks, congested traffic and the roadside being heavily covered with trees and signs).

5. That the speed meter should be expertly tested within a reasonable proximity following the arrest and that such testing be done by means which do not rely on the radar device's own internal calibrations.

Delaware v. Prouse, 440 US 648(1979)-Non-standarized random traffic stops conducted for the purpose of checking driver licenses violates the Fourth Amendment.

New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981)-(This case is no longer the standing case law. See Arizona v. Gant [2009]) Can a police officer search a vehicle incident to arrest if the arrestee is detained in handcuffs in the back of the officer's vehicle? Courts around the country have wrestled with this question with opposite rulings. Many courts have ruled that the search is not justified because the arrestee could not possibly escape handcuffs, then the police unit cage, and get to the arrestee's vehicle to obtain a weapon or destroy evidence. Other courts have ruled that this type of search is justifiable as a search incident to arrest. The US Supreme Court wanted a straightforward rule to settle this issue. The court ruled that a police officer can search the vehicle incident to arrest as long as:

US v. Cortez, 449 US 411 (1981)-A vehicle can be stopped based on reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred, not just a traffic offense.

Michigan v. Thomas, 458 U.S. 259 (1982)-If probable cause is developed indicating there is contraband or evidence in a vehicle during a custodial inventory for impound, a warrantless search of the vehicle can be conducted.

United States v. Ross, 456 US 798 (1982)-Held: Police officers who have legitimately stopped an automobile and who have probable cause to believe that contraband is concealed somewhere within it may conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle that is as thorough as a magistrate could authorize by warrant.

Florida v. Meyers, 466 U.S. 380 (1984)-"The justification to conduct a warrantless search of a car that has been stopped on the road - based on probable cause to believe there is evidence of crime inside it - does not vanish once the car has been impounded and immobilized."

Welsh v. Wisonsin, 466 U. S. 740 (1984)-The defendant was driving drunk and ran off the road. He walked home and went to bed. The officer arrived and was let into the residence by the defendant's step-daughter. The defendant was arrested and charged with DUI. Held: The warrantless, nighttime entry of petitioner's home to arrest him for a civil, nonjailable traffic offense, was prohibited by the special protection afforded the individual in his home by the Fourth Amendment.

California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386 (1985)-A motor home is a vehicle and, therefore, is treated as such when it comes to search and seizure issues. Just because the vehicle is more like a home than most other vehicles, it is irrelevant to the issue. The court indicated that the motor home must be readily mobile. If the motor home is parked and set up as a residence, and steps have been taken to make the vehicle immobile, it will probably be considered a residence, not a vehicle.

United States v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221, 235 (1985)-Where police have been unable to locate a person suspected of committing a past crime, a traffic stop based on reasonable suspicion can be made in order to ask questions and check identification. The police can also make a traffic stop based on information from a "wanted flyer" if the flyer was based on articulable facts supporting a reasonable suspicion that a person committed an offense.

United States v. Johns, 469 U.S. 478 (1985)-The warrantless search of the packages based on probable cause was not unreasonable merely because it occurred three days after the packages were unloaded from the trucks.

New York v. Class, 475 US 106 (1986)-A person does not have a privacy interest in the V.I.N. (vehicle identification number). Class was stopped on traffic for speeding and a cracked windshield. The officer wanted to inspect the V.I.N. located on the dash. The officer had to enter the vehicle and move items covering the V.I.N. When he entered the vehicle he found a gun. The court ruled that the steps to inspect the V.I.N. was reasonable and the gun was legitimately found in plain view. It should be noted that

Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367 (1987)-An officer can search the containers in a vehicle during the custodial inventory following an arrest. Department policy gave the officer discretion on whether to impound the vehicle, have someone pick it up, or leave it parked. The Fourth Amendment does not require the officer to choose a lesser intrusive alternative to the impound. The impound and inventory were Constitutionally permissible actions. The court imposed two criteria for a proper vehicle inventory:

  1. The agency must establish standardized criteria on how an inventory will be conducted.

  2. The officer does not act in bad faith or for the sole purpose of conducting a warrantless search.

Alabama v. White, 496 US 325 (1990)-An anonymous tipster's information is completely lacking in reliability when taken by itself. Further police investigation that corroborates the tipster's information, however, can develop sufficient information to justify at least an investigatory stop.

California v. Acevedo, 500 US 565 (1991)-Police, in a search extending only to a container within an automobile, may search the container without a warrant where they have probable cause to believe that it holds contraband or evidence.

US v. Nielsen, 9 F.3d 1487 (10th Cir. 1993)-The smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle is probable cause to search the passenger area, but not the trunk. See U.S. v. Downs (10th Cir 1998) for further information.

US v. Parker, 72 F.3d 1444 (10th Cir. 1995)-The smell of marijuana and the finding of contraband on the defendant's person was probable cause to search the passenger area and trunk.

Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938 (1996)- "Held: The automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement requires only that there be probable cause to conduct a search." The Court's earlier cases used the mobility of the automobile as the justification for a warrantless search. Later cases, however, further justified a warrantless search based on a person's reduced expectation of privacy in an automobile. The vehicle does not have to be mobile. In this case, the defendant was retrieving drugs from a parked vehicle then selling them on the street. The defendant tried to get the evidence thrown out using the argument that the vehicle was not mobile. Lower courts agreed, but the Supreme Court said the warrantless search of the automobile was legal.

Speight v. US, 671 a.2d 442 (DC Court of Appeals, 1996)-The police can search a parked vehicle without a warrant based on probable cause. The Court stated, "if the search and seizure without a warrant are made upon probable cause, that is, upon a belief, reasonably arising out of circumstances known to the seizing officer, that an automobile or other vehicle contains that which by law is subject to seizure and destruction, the search and seizure are valid."

US v. Elliott, No. 96-8061 (10th Cir. 1997)-A law enforcement officer conducting a routine traffic stop may request a driver's license and vehicle registration, run a computer check, and issue a citation. When the driver has produced a valid license and proof of entitlement to operate the car, the driver must be allowed to proceed without further delay for additional questioning. Further questioning is permissible, however, if:

(1) "during the course of the traffic stop the officer acquires an objectively reasonable and articulable suspicion that the driver is engaged in illegal activity"; or

(2) "the driver voluntarily consents to the officer's additional questioning."

Whren v. U.S., 517 US 806 (1996)-Through the late 1980's and into the 1990's courts were embracing the idea that an officer's subjective reasons for making a traffic stop should be considered when ruling on the validity of seizures. If the court finds that an officer's subjective reasons for making the stop was for anything other than the initial traffic offense, and that reason lacks probable cause or reasonable suspicion, the court would dismiss the charges. The U.S. Supreme Court finally addressed these types of rulings in the Whren case. The court ruled that the objective not subjective reasons for making traffic stops should be considered. An officer's intent or motivation to make a traffic stop is not relevant to the Fourth Amendment standard of "reasonableness".

Maryland v. Wilson, 519 US 408(1997)-This case applied the Mimms case to the passengers. The same legitimate reasons an officer has to order the driver from the vehicle also applies to the passengers.

US v. Hunnicutt, 97-5087 (10th Cir. 1997)-Lengthening the detention for further questioning beyond that related to the initial stop is permissible in two circumstances:

  1. The officer has an objectively reasonable and articulable suspicion illegal activity has occurred or is occurring.

  2. Further questioning unrelated to the initial stop is permissible if the initial detention has become a consensual encounter.

A variety of factors may contribute to the formation of an objectively reasonable suspicion of illegal activity. Some of these factors include:

United States v. Van Syckle, 957 F.Supp. 844(United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Tyler Division)(1997)-The officer had no reasonable suspicion that Van Syckle had committed a violation of the law. The officer raced up behind Van Syckle and came extremely close to his vehicle. Van Syckle made a "hasty lane change" to get out of the officer's way. Van Syckle made the lane change without signaling. The officer stopped him. During the stop, the officer asked for consent to search. He found methamphetamine in the vehicle. The evidence was excluded because the officer's actions caused the traffic violation for which Van Syckle was stopped.

Knowles v. Iowa, 525 U.S. 113 (1998)-A police officer that stops someone's vehicle for a traffic offense and issues a summons cannot search the vehicle incident to the offense. This applies even if the person could have been arrested for the offense.

US v. Barnes, 156 F.3d 1244 (10th Cir. 1998)-The court held that in light of Maryland v. Wilson, it was reasonable for the officer to remove the passenger and have him stand by the fence during the K-9 sniff of the vehicle. The officer was allowed to do this for his safety, the safety of the passenger, and to minimize distraction of the dog during the sniff.

U.S. v. Downs, 1998 151 F.3d 1301 (10th Cir 1998)-The court said that there is a distinct difference between the scope of a vehicle search due to the smell of raw marijuana as opposed the smell of burnt marijuana. In this case, the court held that with the strong smell of raw marijuana there is a fair probability that the car is being used to transport large quantities of marijuana and that the marijuana has been secreted in places other than the passenger compartment. The officer, therefore, is not limited to searching just the passenger compartment. See US v. Nielsen, 9 F.3d 1487 (10th Cir. 1993) for further information.

Wyoming v. Houghton, 526 U.S. 295 (1999)-If there is probable cause to search a car, then police officers may inspect all areas capable of concealing the object of the search, including passengers' belongings.

United States v. Edwards, 242 F.3d 928, 937-38 (10th Cir. 2001)-The suspect was arrested approx. 150ft. away from his vehicle. The suspect was not seen by police in or around his vehicle prior to arrest. The vehicle cannot be searched incident to arrest because it was not in his immediate control.

US v. Drayton, 536 U.S. 194 (2002)-Held: The Fourth Amendment does not require police officers to advise bus passengers of their right not to cooperate and to refuse consent to searches.

U.S. v. Mercado, 307 F.3d 1226 (10th Cir. 2002)-The defendant's vehicle was towed to a repair shop. An officer was at the shop in plain clothes. The officer developed probable cause to search the vehicle. Because the vehicle was only temporarily immobile, he could search it without a warrant.

Thornton v. U.S., 541 U.S. 615 (2004)-(This case is no longer the standing case law. See Arizona v. Gant [2009]) The court expanded on the New York v. Belton case. The court said that a person does not have to be in a vehicle at the time of contact by police to do a search incident to arrest on the vehicle. The person only has to be in "close proximity, both temporally and spatially," for the search to be reasonable.

US v. Palmer, 03-5115 (10th Cir.)(2004)-If an officer has specific articulable facts that rise to a reasonable fear for his safety during a traffic stop, the officer can search a locked glove box.

US v. Petty, 03-3388 (8th Cir.)(2004)-Petty was arrested in a known drug and prostitution area after he dropped a bag of cocaine. He had a rental car key on him. Petty's rent car was legally parked in the parking lot of a closed business nearby. The officer impounded Petty's vehicle. During the inventory, two stolen guns were found. Petty moved to suppress the handguns found during the inventory search of the rental car on the ground that the car was impounded in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The lower and Circuit Courts refused to suppress the guns.

In the case at hand, the Court determined that the police had a sufficient basis to conclude that the rental car should be impounded. The driver was arrested. The vehicle was in the parking lot of a closed business in a high crime area. The defendant was not connected with the closed business. The vehicle belonged to a rental company, not the defendant. The community caretaking function was warranted.

US v. Williams, 419 F.3d 1029 (9th Cir. 2005) that the officer can order a passenger in a vehicle, who was trying to exit and leave a traffic stop, back into the vehicle. “Allowing a passenger, or passengers, to wander freely about while a lone officer conducts a traffic stop presents a dangerous situation by splitting the officer’s attention between two or more individuals, and enabling the driver and/or the passenger(s) to take advantage of a distracted officer.” The need for the officer’s safety and ability to exercise control over the occupants in a vehicle stopped on traffic outweigh the minimal intrusion into the passenger’s liberty.

Brendlin v. California, 000 U.S. 06-8120 (2007)-Held: When police make a traffic stop, a passenger in the car, like the driver, is seized for Fourth Amendment purposes and so may challenge the stop's constitutionality.

Scott v. Harris, 000 US 05–1631 (2007)-Deputy Timothy Scott, petitioner here, terminated a high-speed pursuit of respondent’s car by applying his push bumper to the rear of the vehicle, causing it to leave the road and crash. Respondent was rendered quadriplegic. He filed suit under 42 U. S. C. §1983 alleging, inter alia the use of excessive force resulting in an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

Held: A police officer’s attempt to terminate a dangerous high-speed car chase that threatens the lives of innocent bystanders does not violate the Fourth Amendment, even when it places the fleeing motorist at risk of serious injury or death.

Points of the court's reasoning:

*It should be noted that the dash video was very important in establishing the facts on behalf of Deputy Timothy Scott.

US v. Rice, No. 06-5138 (10 Cir. 2007)-[Officer] Weakley did not need reasonable suspicion to request identification from Rice [driver], run a background check on him, or remove Rice or any other passenger from the car. These actions are fully justified by officer safety concerns no matter how innocuous the traffic violation and need not be supported by additional reasonable suspicion.

Stufflebeam v. Harris, 06-4046 (8th Cir. 2008)-The Court held: Police could not arrest a passenger in a vehicle simply because he did not comply with the officer and show identification. The officer needs reasonable suspicion that the passenger is engaged in criminal conduct before compelling him to show identification. The Court stated, "...arresting Stufflebeam, a passenger not suspected of criminal activity, because he adamantly refused to comply with an unlawful demand that he identify himself. No reasonable police officer could believe he had probable cause to arrest this stubborn and irritating, but law abiding citizen.

Arizona v. Gant, 000 U.S. 07-542 (2009)-The Supreme Court re-addressed the decisions in New York v. Belton and Thornton v. US. The court limited the search incident to arrest on a vehicle. In the Gant case, police arrested Gant for driving under suspension. They then conducted a search incident to arrest of the vehicle with Gant restrained in a police car. The Court stated that Police may search the passenger compartment of a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest only if it is reasonable to believe that the arrestee might access the vehicle at the time of the search or that the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest. Access to the vehicle means a real likelihood that the arrestee can get in the vehicle. Basically, he must be in or by the vehicle and mobile. Once he is restrained in movement by officers' presence and/or other means of restraint , the search of the vehicle is not justified without further reason. The Court went on to say that officers may search a vehicle when genuine safety or evidentiary concerns encountered during the arrest of a vehicle’s recent occupant justify a search. 

In the case of Gant, the court determined that the search was not justified for officer's safety because Gant was restrained in a police car. The officers also did not have any reason to believe that there was evidence in the vehicle related to Driving Under Suspension. If an officer has probable cause to believe evidence or contraband is in the vehicle or another vehicle exception applies, he can still search it without a warrant.

What does all this mean to police? The Court decided that officers can no longer do an automatic search of the vehicle incident to arrest on every traffic stop regardless of the arrest circumstances. There are two parts to this decision. The first part deals with a search of the vehicle for weapons as an officer’s safety issue. The second is a search for evidence or contraband.  

Let’s start with a search of the vehicle incident to arrest for officer safety. The Court on numerous occasions in the opinion stated that the arrestee or possibly the other occupants have to have a reasonable possibility to access a weapon in the vehicle. They have to be in or near the vehicle and have the ability to access a weapon. If there are enough officers on scene to prevent the arrestee or occupants from reaching a weapon in the vehicle, or these subjects are restrained in police vehicles, then a search for a weapon is not justified. If an officer is using proper officer safety techniques before conducting a search by making sure the subjects are properly watched or secure to prevent an ambush or escape, then I cannot foresee any circumstance where an officer can legally search for a weapon without further reason. Remember this is a search for weapons outside any articulable facts leading an officer to reasonably believe there is a weapon in the vehicle.    

The second justification for a search incident to arrest is the search for evidence or contraband. The Court made it clear that officers can no longer do a search incident to arrest on a vehicle to look for evidence unless there reasonably may be evidence in the vehicle that is related to the crime that lead to the arrest. Examples of this would be looking for open beer cans or liquor bottles on a Driving Under the Influence arrest, or searching for drugs on a drug related arrest.  

This all deals specifically with a search incident to arrest of a vehicle. This case does not affect all the other exceptions to a vehicle search: Vehicle inventory, search based on probable cause, exigent circumstances, plain view, abandoned property, stop and frisk, and consent.

Arizona V. Johnson, 000 US 07–1122 (2009)A vehicle was lawfully stopped on traffic for a violation. During the course of the traffic stop, one of the officers on the scene talked to the passenger, Johnson. The encounter was consensual and was not related to any criminal matter. The officer developed reasonable suspicion that Johnson may be armed and pat searched him. A gun was found and he was arrested. The Court determined that an officer’s inquiries into matters unrelated to the justification for the traffic stop do not convert the encounter into something other than a lawful seizure, so long as the inquiries do not measurably extend the stop’s duration. In a traffic-stop setting, the first Terry condition—a lawful investigatory stop—is met whenever it is lawful for police to detain an automobile and its occupants pending inquiry into a vehicular violation. The police need not have, in addition, cause to believe any occupant of the vehicle is involved in criminal activity. To justify a pat down of the driver or a passenger during a traffic stop, however, just as in the case of a pedestrian reasonably suspected of criminal activity, the police must harbor reasonable suspicion that the person subjected to the frisk is armed and dangerous. "A reasonable passenger would understand that during the time a car is lawfully stopped, he or she is not free to terminate the encounter with the police and move about at will." The officer's authority to control the occupants of a stopped vehicle ends when the officer no longer needs to control the scene and advises the occupants they are free to leave.

US v. Pena Montes, 08-2169.No. (10th Cir. 2009)-The officer stopped a vehicle on traffic for not displaying a tag. When he walked up to the vehicle, he discovered a dealer tag in the window. He continued to detain the occupants and questioned and ultimately arrested a passenger. The Court held that once the officer discovered that the vehicle did have a tag, any further detention of the vehicle and its occupants was an unlawful seizure. The arrest was vacated.

Barberton v. Jenney, 126 Ohio St.3d 5, (2010-Ohio-2420)-A police officer’s unaided visual estimation of a vehicle’s speed is sufficient evidence to support a conviction for speeding in violation of R.C. 4511.21(D) without independent verification of the vehicle’s speed if the officer is trained, is certified by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy or a similar organization that develops and implements training programs to meet the needs of law-enforcement professionals and the communities they serve, and is experienced in visually estimating vehicle speed.

US v. Ludwig, 08-CR-224-D (10th Cir. 2011)-In this case, the district court found the trooper’s visual estimate credible and we are given no reason to believe otherwise. To be sure, as Mr. Ludwig well notes, the eyes can deceive and the trooper’s training in speed estimation dates back to his time in the police academy. But Mr. Ludwig neglects to mention that the trooper enjoyed a fine view, watching Mr. Ludwig’s car approach as he was parked in the highway’s median. Mr. Ludwig also fails to note the day was crystal clear and the trooper possessed 15 years’ experience as a highway patrolman watching cars and estimating speeds. And Mr. Ludwig offers us no affirmative reason to think that the trooper forgot his training or that his estimate should be discredited for any other reason. In these circumstances, the district court’s factual finding about the reliability of the trooper’s visual estimation remains untouched, must be affirmed, itself sufficient to support the traffic stop.

US v. Legge, 10-4091 (10th Cir. 2011)-The separating of the driver from the passenger and questioning both about their travel plans is a permissible activity for a law enforcement officer to pursue during a traffic stop. This activity is not restrained by the decision in US v. Hunnicutt (see above).

Sykes v. United States, 564 U. S. ____ - 09-11311 (2011)-Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U. S. C. §924(e), The Court ruled that a violation of Indiana's Felony Vehicle Flight law is considered a violent felony under the ACCA. The Court stated, "The attempt to elude capture is a direct challenge to an officer’s authority. It is a provocative and dangerous act that dares, and in a typical case requires, the officer to give chase. The felon’s conduct gives the officer reason to believe that the defendant has something more serious than a traffic violation to hide. In Sykes’ case, officers pursued a man with two prior violent felony convictions and marijuana in his possession. In other cases officers may discover more about the violent potential of the fleeing suspect by running a check on the license plate or by recognizing the fugitive as a convicted felon. See, e.g., Arizona v. Gant, 556 U. S. ___, ___ (2009) (slip op., at 2).

Because an accepted way to restrain a driver who poses dangers to others is through seizure, officers pursuing fleeing drivers may deem themselves duty bound to escalate their response to ensure the felon is apprehended. Scott v. Harris, 550 U. S. 372, 385 (2007), rejected the possibility that police could eliminate the danger from a vehicle flight by giving up the chase because the perpetrator 'might have been just as likely to respond by continuing to drive recklessly as by slowing down and wiping his brow.' And once the pursued vehicle is stopped, it is sometimes necessary for officers to approach with guns drawn to effect arrest. Confrontation with police is the expected result of vehicle flight. It places property and persons at serious risk of injury. Risk of violence is inherent to vehicle flight. Between the confrontations that initiate and terminate the incident, the intervening pursuit creates high risks of crashes. It presents more certain risk as a categorical matter than burglary. It is well known that when offenders use motor vehicles as their means of escape they create serious potential risks of physical injury to others. Flight from a law enforcement officer invites, even demands, pursuit. As that pursuit continues, the risk of an accident accumulates. And having chosen to flee, and thereby commit a crime, the perpetrator has all the more reason to seek to avoid capture.

Unlike burglaries, vehicle flights from an officer by definitional necessity occur when police are present, are flights in defiance of their instructions, and are effected with a vehicle that can be used in a way to cause serious potential risk of physical injury to another."

United States v. Trestyn, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 9605 (10th Cir. 2011)-A Wyoming trooper stopped a vehicle for having only one (rear) California vehicle tag. California requires both a front and rear tag. Wyoming, however, requires only a rear tag. The trooper approached the vehicle and observed that the decals were current on the tag. The trooper detained the driver and ran a driver license check and other checks. He also questioned the driver and passenger. The Court ruled that the vehicle only had to comply with Wyoming law. The trooper discovered upon approaching the vehicle that the tag was in proper order. He had no reason to delay the driver and passenger any longer even to run routine checks.

Mascorro v. Billings, 10-7005 (10th Cir. 2011)-A police officer saw a known juvenile pass him at night without functioning taillights. The officer turned to stop the vehicle. The driver drove two blocks to his home and ran inside before the officer could catch and stop him. The officer forced his way in against the consent of the parents pepper spraying them in the process. The juvenile was found and arrested in the bathroom. The Court held that an officer must have:

  1. A serious offense, and
  2. An exigent circumstance

Both of these must occur before an officer can enter a home and make an arrest without a warrant. In this case, a minor traffic offense was not serious and did not justify the warrantless entry and arrest. A serious offense can be either a felony or misdemeanor. Either one, however, must have a very strong justification. A DUI charge does not meet the criteria, see Welch v. Wisonsin, but AWOL does see Bledsoe v. Garcia.

US v. Cowan, 11-1525 (8th Cir, 2012)-Cowan was in an apartment that was being searched by officers executing a search warrant. An officer pat searched Cowan and found a key fob. The officer activated the fob and a vehicle in the parking lot. A canine was used to sniff the vehicle. The dog alerted the vehicle was searched without a warrant. Crack cocaine was found in the vehicle. The 8th Circuit Court held that the use of the fob was not unreasonable. The fob only identified the vehicle. Alternatively, the officer could have ran the tags on the vehicles until he found Cowan's vehicle, or watched for Cowan to leave and see which vehicle he got into. The use of the fob to find the vehicle and the subsequent canine sniff and warrantless search of the vehicle was lawful.

US v. Neff, 10-3336 (10th Cir. 2012)-The case of City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32, outlawed the use of roadside drug checkpoints. Police then started using ruse drug checkpoints. Officers place signs on the roadway notifying drivers of a drug checkpoint ahead. This usually occurs in rural areas with limited exits. The officers then stake out the first exit past the signs and watch for vehicles exiting. The vehicle is stopped and investigated. The court held that these types of ruse checkpoints can occur, but the officer must have a valid traffic offense or reasonable suspicion before stopping the vehicle. The court further stated, “We hold that an officer must identify additional suspicious circumstances or independently evasive behavior to justify stopping a vehicle that uses an exit after ruse drug checkpoint signs.

US v. Sowards, 10-4133 (4th Cir. 2012)-“…the reasonableness of an officer’s visual speed estimate depends, in the first instance, on whether a vehicle’s speed is estimated to be in significant excess or slight excess of the legal speed limit. If slight, then additional indicia of reliability are necessary to support the reasonableness of the officer’s visual estimate.” In this case, the deputy visually estimated the speed at 75 mph in a 70 mph zone. The Court held that this slight a difference would require that the deputy support the estimate by pacing, radar, or other reliable means to establish reasonableness for the stop.

Missouri v. McNeely, No. 11–1425 (SCOTUS, 2013)-This is a drunk-driving case involving a warrantless blood draw. The driver, McNeely, was stopped for a traffic violation. He refused to take the breath test. The officer arrested McNeely and took him to the hospital and compelled him to submit to a warrantless blood draw. The Court held that with no other factors suggesting an emergency other than the dissipation of blood alcohol on a routine drunk driving case violated McNeely’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches.

The Court also refused to establish a bright line rule of when an emergency exists justifying a warrantless blood draw. The totality of the circumstances for each case will be the determining factor.

Although not expressed in this ruling, the Court has determined that in order for police to enter into a residence and arrest without a warrant there must be both a serious offense and exigent circumstances (see Payton v. New York and Mascorro v. Billings). For a drunk driving case to be consistent it will need to involve something like an accident with serious injury or death before a warrantless blood draw would be allowed.

US v. Uribe, No. 11-3590 (7th Cir. 2013)-Uribe was driving through the state of Indiana in a blue Nissan registered in Utah. An officer ran the vehicle regisitration which listed the vehicle as white. The officer stopped the vehicle for the color discrepancy. The stop lead to the discovery of a pound pof heroin. Uribe was arrested. Uribe made a motion to suppress the evidence in district court. The motion was granted. The Circuit Court upheld the suppression stating, "investigatory stops based on color discrepancies alone are insufficient to give rise to reasonable suspicion." The suppression of the evidence was affirmed.